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The first time I saw Fists in the Pocket, I was 7 or 8 years old and I
thought the film was a horror movie because of its gruesome subject
matter. It had freaked me a lot then. Today, after viewing it for the
first time in its entirety, and though I don't think the film can be
considered to be an all and out horror flick, I still think there's
enough gruesome and eerie qualities to this drama to call it an
authentic neo-horror film. A horror film with intelligence. Unlike
Hitchcock (no, I'm not saying his films aren't intelligent) or the
plethora of other less subtle horror films, where the horror or terror
is mostly obvious and played for thrills to manipulate an audience, in
Fists the disturbing aspects aren't played out for thrills. They're
there to show the sad situation in which the characters exist. Because
of this, the film has a true morbid atmosphere, quasi-Gothic in nature,
that permeates it from beginning to end. The characters inability to
see the horrifying things they do or think (for most part of the
narrative) makes this film absolutely unique in film history. It's a
vivid "intimate" portrait of a dysfunctional family that's almost a
cerebral horror film.
Simply put, it's brilliant!
The actors are all excellent but Lou Castel's performance as the frustrated, crazed, death obsessed brother is mesmerizing. You can't take your eyes off him. And even though it was made in 1965, the film feels contemporary, mainly because of its refusal to amplify and exploit it shocking aspects or the characters' foibles to heights of schlock or melodrama. Plus, the fluid direction gives this morbid drama (which could have easily been heavy and static) a deceptively "normal" quality which works perfectly and adds even more to all of the characters' sad state of mind. The film is equally claustrophobic and expansive; claustrophobic with the (very) tight interiors and the family drama that (like one of the characters of the film wants to do) makes you want to break free and escape at all cost; and expansive because of the Italian countryside that surrounds these doomed characters. The scenery, natural and man-made, is a character of its own, seemingly symbolizing the characters precipitous existence but also overwhelmingly vast, stark and crushing, dwarfing the already tightly-knit family down to minuscule size, which then heightens their already claustrophobic existence that much more. Ennio Morricone's score is characteristically moody & chilling and complements the film perfectly.
Fists in the Pocket is a very earthy, grounded, morbid & blunt portrait of a doomed family! A must-see for those who love "pure" cinema.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There had never been a film quite like 'Fist" before. Marco
Bellocchio's exasperating, ground-breaking, virtuoso family
drama/existential tragedy/black comedy/ horror film is unclassifiable
and brilliant -- an artistic and technical triumph. It's a corrosive
depiction of a rotting, dysfunctional family being literally led to
extinction (or rather to deaths by coups de grace) like a
deteriorating, cancerous organism. Bellocchio grabs you by the collar
to make you watch the agonizing putrefaction of a formerly well-off but
now impoverished, demented, degenerated clan along with the fossilized
Catholic rural bourgeoisie values they stand for.
Thus, we meet the doomed family -- the blind, powerless, quasi-mummified Mother (the Father is never mentioned, we assume he's dead) and her four children with Imperial names: there's Augusto, the eldest, tyrannical, insensitive, pathologically selfish, now the patriarch of the family, who plans to get away from their decadent house (Bellocchio's real family house near Piacenza) by taking whatever's left of the family money, marrying socialite Lucia and moving into town. There's Leone, the youngest, a harmless, dependent, mentally impaired epileptic who's rejected by everyone in the family but utters the sanest line in the movie ("What torture, living in this house!"). There's Giulia, the beautiful, narcissistic, inconsequential, prank-loving ragazza who just can't get enough love from her brothers. And there's Alessandro, the central character, an epileptic, tormented, anguished, angry young man who's so bipolar he's alternately called Ale and Sandro, torn apart by hatred and self-hatred, insecurity, sense of uselessness, sloth and an incestuous fixation on sister Giulia. Ale finally concludes that the best way to end all this mess is killing off all the family members (including himself), with the exception of Augusto, the only one in their degenerate caste with apparent "normality" and sufficiently "elastic" morality to join (i.e., become a parasite in) another caste by marrying modern, urban petty bourgeois Lucia.
Though "Fist" still stands very tall 4 decades later, it's makes one wonder what a revolutionary shocker it must have been when it first came out. Alessandro turns upside down the quintessential principles of European Catholic civilization: family love and unity (Alessandro hates and plans to kill his family); respect for the saintly Mother (he simulates slapping her and punching her in the face until he finally murders her, which is more like euthanasia); respect for the ancestors (he literally stomps on a family portrait): the Catholic sacraments (check the startling wake scene, where Alessandro nonchalantly rests his feet on the coffin with his mother's corpse, which certainly inspired the unforgettable Brando wake scene in Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris"); the respect for "La Patria" (Alessandro carelessly tosses away the Italian flag like useless garbage); the respect for property (after Mother's death, Ale and Giulia burn all her furniture and belongings in celebration!); the inviolability of the incest taboo (though it's never clear whether Ale and Giulia have actual intercourse, he aches with love and sexual desire for her).
Bellocchio uses Alessandro's bipolar disorder to make a film of moods and sharp contrasts. Amazingly, it was the work of beginners: it was not only Bellocchio's feature debut (he was barely 25), but also the debut of D.P. Alberto Marrama, whose chiaroscuro cinematography alternates blazing clarity and claustrophobic darkness; of cameraman Giuseppe Lanci (he would become Bellocchio's D.P. in the 80s), who juxtaposes shots of beautiful classical inspiration (Giulia sunbathing in the large veranda) and unsettling modernism (the unforgettable last sequence); of editor Aurelio Mangiarotti (a.k.a. Silvano Agosti), who translates the highs and lows of Ale's moods into contrasting rhythms (the electrifying "Sorpasso" scene vs. the delicate bathtub murder scene); and of art director Gisella Longo, who opposes the signals of old Catholic rural bourgeoisie (family daguerreotypes, old-style furniture and Catholic symbols) with the adapted-to-new-times pop bourgeoisie of Lucia's (Augusto's fiancée) world, especially in the beautiful, Zurliniesque night-club sequence.
Bellocchio's assuredness in exploring images, structure, music (a surprisingly succinct score by the great Ennio Morricone) and dialog is astounding, but the film wouldn't be quite as impressive without the powerhouse performance by Lou Castel. With his tormented looks -- a cross between the sensitivity and danger of a young Brando (whose photograph in "The WIld One" we see many times by Giulia's bed) and the scary madness of a Klaus Kinski -- emotional unpredictability and borderline intensity, Castel's Alessandro is one of the greatest young male roles/performances in film history, a "jeune maudit" perfectly worthy of Dostoevsky.
"Fists" reminds us of the creative freedom of the provocative, rebel cinema of a Buñuel. Bellocchio joins other early 60s greats (Pasolini, Bertolucci, Zurlini, Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson) in the examination of the deterioration of the "sacred family" and the struggling-for-survival anti-conformism of the younger generation: families were never the same again after this film (think of Pasolini's "Teorema", Visconti's "Conversation Piece", Fassbinder, Ozon, Garrel, Scorsese). **SPOILER** All is crowned by the last scene, where Bellocchio gives Alessandro's final epileptic seizure such orgasmic climax -- to the sound of Violetta's hysterical anthem to hedonism, the aria "Sempre Libera" from Verdi's "La Traviata" -- that we have to stop breathing during that last endless high note of agony and ecstasy; how many finales were ever this cathartic? When was a scene of death so powerfully liberating?
"Fist" is one of the greatest anti-conformist manifestos and one of the most stunning directorial debuts in movie history. Unlike some revolutionary masterpieces, its impact and power remain to this day alive, unsettling, unforgettable.
Marco Bellocchio directs his first full-length film, and it's already a masterpiece, a milestone in the history of Italian cinema.This movie is all about contemporary uneasiness and family crisis in today's society (only, some two decades in advance). Every time I hear of family massacres on the news, I've got to think about problematic, disturbed Lou Castel deciding to get rid of his mother and younger brother for the benefit of the eldest, embodying not only a stage of criminality, but above all a wrong philosophy, a twisted point of view about life, a failed maturity. Ennio Morricone' score is just perfect, fully successful in his aim to highlight the dramatic potential of the story. Lou Castel has never acted like this, his grimacing and his usage of the dead moments are unforgettable. The frames of the mother's death are like an howl, they "send shivers down your spine". A must-see.
This first effort by writer/director Marco Bellocchio has been called a
drama by some, and a horror film by others. It is both. It is neither.
It is a view of a dysfunctional family. I almost had the impression they cam from a long line of incest like The People Under the Stairs. One wants to get away, another has epilepsy, the mother is blind, one seems to be developmentally disabled, and the last, Giulia (Paola Pitagora)is really not classifiable, but she sure seems to spend a lot of time very close to her brother Ale (Lou Castel).
Ale feels sorry for his older brother, Augusto (Marino Masé) and hatches a plan to drive the rest of the family, including himself off a cliff so his brother can get on with his life.
His plan fails, so he starts doing them in one by one.
Watching him is mesmerizing. You just have to see what he is going to try next. In the meantime, the family just acts as crazy as you would expect.
Bellocchio went on to direct many more great films including A Leap in the Dark, The Prince of Homburg, and The Religion Hour. It is amazing his first was so good.
When this film first appeared in the 1960s, the effect was so startlingly individual: there had never been a film as bold, as seemingly unhinged, yet as ruthlessly controlled, as this first feature by Marco Bellocchio. The wonderfully atmospheric black-and-white cinematography seemed to be developed from some dingy dream which dared to bring out into the open the most heinous family secrets, yet the utterly dispassionate fury which animated the most frenzied sequences was so freakish it was almost funny. This constant tension somehow allowed for a sneaky kind of compassion to enter the movie, so that the family dynamics, though extreme, seemed to come out of a common nightmare. FISTS IN THE POCKET remains an embattled cry for a new society, by focusing on the remnants of the diseased upper classes, yet this tale of sound and fury seems to have been made in the kind of frenzied reverie that is analogous to the stream-of-conscious jumble which William Faulkner used at the beginning of THE SOUND AND THE FURY, and to the same effect, i.e., to chart a family's disintegration as a mirror to the decaying grandeur of a dying society.
This picture has a plot that is disturbing, and I've had to let 24
hours pass before deciding what the story is about. First off, the
reviews to date appearing before mine are excellent in explaining the
movie's artistic merits and themes. My take benefits from having read
The plot is straightforward, although extremely unusual. A young man who is epileptic is part of a family with deep problems. He determines to take everyone's lives. This doesn't work out as planned, so he instead murders his blind mother and then his younger brother, who is of subpar intelligence. The movie ends in midstream without his having completed his designs, his sister being next in line apparently. He and his sister have a close to incestuous relationship. Their older brother doesn't know what his younger brother has done, but the sister does, and she does nothing about it.
This tale is told in a normal and matter of fact fashion for the most part, although naturally the characters have emotional outbursts and oddities.
The characters are thoroughly removed from almost all hope of regaining any semblance of normal human creativity. The beauty of La Traviata serves as a background to an epileptic seizure. The brother and sister trample on every symbol of their family, their mother, material possessions, religion and so on. They have no shame and no sense of something valuable to hold onto. The killer has no sense of redemption other than through his murders.
The writer and film makers have used this family as a microcosm or metaphor of Italy, Europe and Western civilization in general. They are saying that all the old values are dead. World War 2 following upon World War 1 following upon the philosophic death of God have seen to that. The suffocating bureaucratic welfare states have seen to that. The flawed church establishments have seen to that. The family has proved unable to withstand the pressures, it too having its own share of dysfunctionalities. What is left, we are shown artistically, is suicide and death. These are the new normal. They are the direction of these trends and their underlying thrust, and this family reflects it all. The killer's energy is released only by removing what he sees as the obstacles. He can no longer think straight. He can't see any other alternatives. If youth is ever the hope, and if this is youth, then there is no hope. The civilization will go to its degraded end. All of this is the message.
And while it is being told, the surroundings remain as always. Nature's beauties remain. Things seem normal, even when they are not. A mother can be pushed off a beautiful cliff and nature doesn't blink. God doesn't strike the murderer dead. There is no blood, no gore. There is not even any joy in the killer. He in fact is frustrated that no one else recognizes his cleverness in getting away with it. His look is surely wicked and devilish at times, even as he is boyish. The actor did a great job at conveying that. Evil looks normal. The message is that the evil in Europe has so permeated every institution, including the family, that there are no paths left to redemption.
The movie ends with this downward spiral in progress and incompleted, as if to say, wait and watch the rest of this tragedy unfold in real life. The movie is therefore very much an intensification of noir themes in these destructive directions of an obsessed young man.
I found it a bit disappointing. There are great moments -the funeral or the dance party for example- but as a whole I came out of the theater pretty unimpressed. Still, you have to remember that it first came out in 1965,and what happens in the movie must have chilled the Italian public of that time. Rating;6
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